The Keck research experience displays the acknowledged characteristics of high-quality undergraduate research experiences: students are involved in original research, are stakeholders and retain intellectual ownership of their research, experience the intellectual excitement of working in a group and independent contexts, and engage in the scientific process from conception to completion. The Consortium positions the student/mentor relationship in a collaborative setting with faculty and students from different colleges and universities. For the research teams, the collaborative approach enlarges the scope and significance of what can be addressed scientifically. Participating students and faculty work on themes of research that would not or could not be attempted through traditional mentor/student specialty-anchored research. For students, working with different faculty gives them insight into the collaboration process at a professional level and experience with different teaching and mentoring styles. Faculty too benefit from interaction, expanding their knowledge of different research areas, learning new research techniques, and also learning different mentoring styles and educational approaches.
Keck projects are characterized by respectful learning climates that nurture the development of collegial relationships among students and faculty. Faculty work hard to develop friendly climates and are assisted in this endeavor by the Consortium administration. Project Director, Project Faculty, and Student handbooks are sent to participants well in advance of the summer field season. These contain Consortium policies, making participants aware of expectations for behavior during projects. Additionally, the Consortium provides faculty with guidelines for discussing climate issues with participants on the day the project begins in order to re-emphasize our expectations.
The Keck Geology Consortium Program
The full Consortium program typically includes four to eight research projects per year. Most projects are designed for four to twelve students and 1 to 3 faculty. Gateway students commit to a five-week summer project and are encouraged to participate in a professional meeting with other project members during the following academic year. Advanced students make a yearlong commitment to the program, and the nature of their experience varies markedly through the year.
Part 1: Prior to the Summer Research
In the spring before the field season, project directors lead the students through the background study needed for a basic understanding of the project and geology of the study area.
Part 2: Summer Research Activity
In the field phase, students spend four (Advanced projects) or five (Gateway projects) weeks at the study site, learning the geology in more detail, identifying a project, and gathering data.
Fieldwork varies with the project (see the current project descriptions), but includes activities such as mapping, coring, surveying geomorphologic features, measuring stratigraphic sections, and sampling for later chemical or petrographic analyses. During the field season, the impetus of work transfers from the project faculty as advanced students take responsibility for developing a research plan and collecting the data and samples needed to complete their work.
Part 3: Home-Campus Independent Research (Advanced Students)
Following the field phase, students on Advanced Projects return to their home campus and work under the guidance of an on-campus faculty sponsor. During this time, work is more independent in nature as students work to finalize data collection and analysis (e.g., sample preparation for petrographic and chemical analyses, the distillation of survey data, textural analysis) and interpret their results. Frequent communication among participants is encouraged so that the collaborative aspect of the overall research project is maintained. Past experience shows that students have a better research experience in the independent-study phase when the on-campus sponsor travels to the field site. Site visits are especially critical for sponsors new to the program and funds are available to support this travel.
The independent-study phase culminates with the preparation of an independent study or senior thesis based on their Consortium project.
Part 4: Presentation at Professional Conferences
Students and project directors are encouraged to present their work in poster and oral sessions as a team at professional conferences. These conferences give students an opportunity to present research results in a professional and supportive environment. While at the conference, the students interact with other students from their project, as well as with students and professionals doing unrelated research, allowing the exchange of ideas and approaches to problem-solving as well as expanding their network of peer and faculty mentors. Participation in a professional conference also provides opportunities for professional development, including developing disciplinary knowledge, building identity as a scientist, networking, learning more about graduate study opportunities, and exploring career options.
Part 5: Publications (Advanced Students)
Advanced students are required to submit four-page extended abstracts for publication in the Keck Consortium short contributions volume. The Consortium supports students in these endeavors, providing guidelines related to the production of graphics as well as an abstract template to assist text formatting. Students have the opportunity to submit abstracts for review prior to deadlines, receiving feedback from Consortium administration on graphics design and production, abstract organization, and writing in standard geoscience style.